Saturday, February 28, 2009

Better Late than Never

Almost exactly a year and a month ago, I wrote a post entitled "The Best Movie We May Never See," based on a review I had read through my Variety RSS feed. The topic of this post was The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), a joint project directed and written by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath. It is probably worth reproducing what the Variety review wrote about Phrasavath:

Back in Laos, Phrasavath's father had worked for the CIA choosing targets inside the country for U.S. bombing runs. Following the fall of the CIA-backed Royal Lao Army to the Communist Pathet Lao in 1975, the Phrasavaths became personae non grata, with Thavi's father being shipped off to a re-education camp and his mother fleeing the country with eight of her 10 children in tow.

After a brief period in Thailand, the family applies for asylum in the U.S. and lands on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, where their vision of a gold-paved promised land quickly gives way to the harsh realities of poverty, street gangs and a cramped tenement apartment shared with a Cambodian family of six.

In the time since I wrote my post, the film received an Oscar nomination for best documentary; and it is now finally ready for theatrical release, having opened in both San Francisco and Berkeley yesterday. Here is how Jonathan Curiel introduced his review in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle:

There are a smattering of commercially successful films - feature or documentary - that can truly be called riveting works of humanism. Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire" and Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" are two that come to mind. They may soon be joined by "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)," which was an Oscar nominee for best documentary and is now, in theatrical release, making its way across the United States.

As I previously wrote, this project interested me for two reasons. First of all, living in Singapore provided me with a wealth of opportunities to understand the context and impact of the Vietnam War far better than I could from any of the books and films (both documentary and fictitious) that emerged from that period of American history. Secondly, and more specifically, it was clear from the Variety account that, while this film was a documentary, it was also very much a narrative about consequences, that concept that I keep exploring but seems to be in the blind spot of contemporary American culture. My guess is that the theatrical run for this film will be neither long nor profitable, but hopefully it will serve as a precursor to distribution through DVD and cable. At least it is no longer consigned to that limbo that the "logic of money and power in Hollywood" usually provides for such films.

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